Destinations | The Smooth Guide

A long weekend in New York with Jason Wu

Nominated for a 2009 CFDA Swarovski womenswear award, the rising star takes Avril Groom on a tour of his Manhattan haunts.

March 22 2010
Avril Groom

“New York is my home and I love it. I was born in Taiwan and have lived in Canada, New England and France, but I’ve been here for 10 years, the longest I’ve stayed anywhere. I particularly love walking around the city; it’s how I get my perspective on life. Luckily, I can walk to work in 15 minutes. Just being on the street is so inspiring. Part of the city’s charm is that so much is going on and I discover new things every day as I walk around that I’d never see from a vehicle, such as small restaurants or new independent stores. I do the same in other cities I visit, and it’s often quicker than taking public transport or a cab, but I really recommend it in New York – if you’re taking a break and have time, put your heels in your bag and take in the city by walking it.

I have lived in midtown Eastside ever since I arrived, and it’s easy to get to my favourite areas: the East Village, SoHo and Chinatown. For a relaxing time, I would stay at The Bowery Hotel. The rooms are a good size, it’s beautifully decorated with carefully chosen sculptures and art, and it has a great atmosphere – like a very welcoming home. If you’re arriving on a weekday, head straight for the Meatpacking District, which has become too busy and touristy at the weekend, but in the week it is much quieter with a different ambience. Then you can see it with a New Yorker’s eye. It reminds me of when I first arrived in New York, when there were just a couple of restaurants and the designer store, Jeffrey, there. Now it’s all stores. But Jeffrey is still great and the menswear choice is very personal; I wear the Number (N)ine range from Japan.

I love that New York culture of slightly dodgy-looking places which can be fab inside with real personality – you really can’t judge a book by its cover here. For instance, I am very fond of The Standard hotel. The building is industrial-looking but the inside is very retro-stylish – a great 1960s-influenced place with a stunning view over the city. There’s also the Gramercy Park Hotel, which is quite a grand version of Ian Schrager’s vision. Its Rose Bar has amazing artwork and furniture by Julian Schnabel – it’s a lot of fun.

On a weekday down in the Meatpacking District I might lunch at Pastis. I like smaller, low-key places, so it’s best to go when they’re not so busy. I love French food, and this is hearty, provincial bistro-style dining. I also like interesting fusions; a place I often go to for dinner with friends is Basta Pasta, which is intimate and informal, and not at all scene-y. It’s a Japanese-owned Italian restaurant, so it’s Italian food through the eyes of a Japanese chef. The entire kitchen is in the dining room and there’s not even a counter – it’s a very Japanese concept. And the food is wonderful, very clean and simple, such as pasta with fish roe, or a wheel of cheese with hot pasta in a hole in the middle into which the cheese melts, served with prosciutto.

Shopping is a great pastime at the weekend in New York, but I like to intersperse it with a little culture. I often start at the Strand Bookstore – I go practically every week and always buy two or three books, mostly on art or cookery. They have new stock every time, and browsing there is very relaxing. I have three walls of books in my office and in the studio I’m moving to I will have a library to store the books I have; then I can carry on buying more.

The studio is modern and white-walled, and I love the idea of antique furniture as a contrast. I bought a lot of pieces at the Annex Antiques Fair near Chelsea Piers, which has a wide spread of excellent dealers and is great for all kinds of collectables. In contrast, I love MoMA and its fabulous shop – I catch every exhibition there and always buy the accompanying book, if nothing else.

I have two other quirky favourites. Kate’s Paperie has all the materials for one of my hobbies: beautiful gift-wrapping. I’ve done it since I was a kid and it’s better than the actual shopping, in my view. And Pearl Paint in Chinatown, which is New York’s biggest art-supplies store spread over six floors.

I go every two weeks and love to get lost in there, looking for sketchpads and pens. I wanted to be an illustrator before I decided to design and still sketch all the time, though I rarely do big paintings these days. There is so much that inspires me that a pad only lasts two weeks, and then I archive it. I often forget what was in it, but then I look it up later and find it’s still relevant – good ideas don’t date.

Nearby, on 8th Street near 3rd Avenue, there’s Little Japan with Japanese restaurants and stores. I go to Japan a lot and this feels very authentic – I particularly like the tattoo shops and comic-book stores. I used to come here when I was a student at Parsons, near Union Square, and it still has that slightly edgy, student hang-out feel. Union Square is a great area to walk around and another of my favourite stores is here, ABC Carpet & Home. It’s a huge furniture store with everything from Indian lamps to 1940s vintage chairs, all arranged like a museum and great for inspiration.

There’s also an interesting new restaurant, Momofuku, which is Asian-inspired but presented like tapas – I especially like the braised pork belly. Its sister restaurant, Momofuku Milk Bar, is very chic and young with fabulous, decadent desserts and unique flavours you won’t find anywhere else, such as cookies with pretzel, chocolate chips and butterscotch.

I shop for myself more when I’m abroad, but I have some favourites here. There’s Uniqlo for basics, because I like a uniform look, so I’ll buy a plain sweater in every colour and theirs are the best for the price; the Converse store, which is all-American – I love shoes; Kiehl’s, because its approach to grooming is such fun; Gracious Home, for everything interiors from doorknobs upwards; and my all-time favourite, Bergdorf Goodman.

Bergdorfs is a real New York experience – its menswear store is unique, like a smart but friendly apartment. Having them deliver is unbelievably chic. It’s all so wonderful that when I’ve been, I can’t go to another store for a while; and it has BG, its pretty restaurant with décor by Kelly Wearstler and very tasty food.

In the evening it’s hard to resist the latest well-reviewed show on Broadway, though I often prefer to go to Loews movie theatre branch in the East Village, which is old, small and friendly with a better choice than a huge multiplex.

Sunday should be relaxed glamour. There’s the classic walk in Central Park – I like the bit near 58th and 59th Streets and Fifth Avenue – but the High Line is also great. It’s one of the few places in the city you can walk without traffic, and the views are incredible. A very upscale New York experience is a trip to the Met followed by lunch at Sant Ambroeus. Naturally, I love the Met’s Costume Institute and the way it transforms itself for a new exhibition each year. I love going through the archives, which are stored in tissue paper, pulling out a 1960s Dior and then a 1980s Geoffrey Beene. Sant Ambroeus is very proper and beautiful, with authentic Italian food, and it still has parties of elegant, impeccably dressed ladies who lunch there – it reminds me of the Kennedy era.

Afterwards, I’d suggest the Guggenheim Museum, which is a small, more personal experience. And, finally, a stopoff at Max Brenner, the chocolate bar in Union Square, which has naughty delights such as Key lime white chocolate crêpe. In summer, it’s great for watching streetlife, but I think it’s just as good in winter, warming up over a hot chocolate. I can never understand why New Yorkers are scared of the cold, but then I grew up in a different environment.”

See also

People